Thursday, December 04, 2008

Fuji Neopan 400

Fuji Neopan 400 is a film I've always liked, but somehow seems for me at least to have been a third choice after Tri-X and HP5.
Thats not to say it is inferior to either of those emulsions, far from it! Everytime I've put a roll through I've been impressed by its grain structure and tonal graduation.
I first used the emulsion in the 1980's and one of the things I noticed was the clear base and high accutance which are quite unusual for a fast film.
The characterisics of this film are fine grain for the speed, more so than HP5 or Tri-x and rated at EI 200 and given reduced development gives very fine grain and long tonal range (without the flat look other films can give)
Compared to HP5 the tones look a little harder and more defined against the smooth 'creamy' look of the Ilford emulsion. This gives a more modern look siuted to dynamic subjects in low light, saying that it's not bad with portraits either...

Leica M4-P, Elmar F2,8 Fuji Neopan 400 rated at 400 developed in Rodinal

Over the last few weeks I've been using it as my film of choice in my Medium format cameras, and in that format the film is hard to beat, and gives a really fine grain and nice tonal range with good shadow detail.

 The Artist Zacron, Rolleiflex T, Fuji Neopan 120 rated at 400 developed in Rodinal for 11 mins
Neopan is a very fine grained film for a 400 ISO, so much so that even with 35mm developed in Rodinal is quite satisfactory although you may prefer smaller formats in a developer like ID11/D76, in 120 grain and tone with Rodinal is wonderful.
I feel that this film has a unique look, kind of a 'steely sharpness' coupled with fine grain and at least in my country very reasonable price making it a bit of a photographic bargain.

© Text and Pictures Mark Antony Smith


vl. said...

I just started using this film a week ago, it's curious that you mention it now. I'll certainly try your recommendations for Rodinal, the skin tones look amazing. I did find HP5 a bit hard in Rodinal, and even a little grainy, so this might be a change here.

Just a curiosity, do you recommend developing in 1+25 or 1+50 for higher speed films?

Great blog, by the way. I've found it to be a very useful resource.


Photo–Smith said...

Thanks for commenting on my blog.
In answer to your questions, I use Rodinal for main developer, I like the tones it creates and normally use it 1:50 for most films exceptions being Delta 3200 where I use it 1:25 only in 120.
For higher contrast films (normally slower ones) I use 1:100 with less agitation (1 inversion every 2 mins)
One Caveat:
I mainly use 120. If I were using 35mm I would use DDX or Microphen for HP5/D3200 and Ilfotec HC/ID 11 for general purpose.
That said I like Rodinal, the grain structure it gives films, but most of all the tonality, good keeping properties is a plus too.
At the moment I only have 3 developers in my darkroom, Rodinal, Microphen and ID11.

vl. said...

Thank you for the suggestion, indeed I've just made a few prints with Rodinal (well APH09) developed films in 120, and the tonality is indeed very much to my taste too.

With Neopan 400 when focusing on the enlarger I noticed a rather strange pattern, bigger than the grain, that sort of resembled cracked glaze (or the structure of columnar jointing) and was white on the negative. I've talked to a few people and no-one seems to be able to point me in the right direction. Is there something special required when drying Fuji films that I am missing?


Photo–Smith said...

Strange, I'm not sure without seeing the fault what it could be.
I have seen a crackled pattern before though, when someone I know washed their film under the hot tap, this is called reticulation and is caused by the emulsion swelling like 'wrinkles' it can look like crazy paving.
I'd have to see the images to make a better guess.

Sander said...

Hi Mark,

I can identify well with how you assess the films on your blog. I like how you are looking for different things in a film, i.e. not only resolving power, but also tonality, contrast, scanability, etc. Not many people do an effort to describe the look or 'feel' of a film the way you do.

Many of your observations match mine. Just like you I use mainly Rodinal (nowadays at least), for all the reasons you state somewhere on your blog: sharpness, tonality, contrast control and keepability. My favourite combination right now is Neopan 400 rated at 250 in Rodinal 1+50 for 8 minutes with little agitation. I use this in my Contax G1. The results are fantastic: great tonality and high perceived sharpness. I do not mind the grain most of times, in fact I feel it adds rather than obscures. I also tried Acros, but that felt to steely and 'digital' to me; your words as well.

I use the Neopan 400/Rodinal combo mainly for landscapes. To me, landscapes are not so much about detail, but rather about tonality. Tonality is great with Neopan 400/Rodinal. I have been playing around with other combos, but I have so far been unable to find something that matches or exceeds my favourite. I have tried the following:

- APX100 in Rodinal, different dilutions: great tonality, but grain not as beautiful as Neopan 400,
- APX100 in ID-11 (1+1): great tonality, nicer grain than with Rodinal (more subtle somehow),
- Acros in Rodinal: grainless, very sharp, but rather clinical/digital look,
- Acros in FX-39: grainless, not as sharp as Rodinal, good contrast, still too digital,
- Delta 100 in FX-39: no mid-tones, I don't like this combo,
- Adox CHS 50 in Rodinal: great tonality, old-fashioned look, a bit fuzzy (not as sharp as eg Acros), emulsion quite vulnerable, production defects (?),
- FP4 in Ilfosol S: nice, but a bit boring,
- Tri-x in Rodinal: quite similar to Neopan in Rodinal, I prefer the grain of Neopan,
- Tmax 400 in Tmax developer: some blocked highlights (clouds), but very sharp and not too grainy for me, good shadow detail, good tonality,
- Tmax 100 in Xtol: fine grain, good detail, easy contrast, but too fuzzy for me (not Rodinal-like sharp),
- Pan F in Rodinal: contrast too high (partly my fault), funny tone curve, very sharp,
- Fomapan 200 in ID-11: quite good in all respects, nothing outstanding.

I must have tried more combo's over the last 15 years, but these are the ones I remember well enough. As said, my current favourite is Neopan 400 in Rodinal (35mm). The thing that I would like to improve on in this combo is the grain. Sometimes, for certain scenes, it is a slightly too present. I have tried several slower speed films to give me less grain but similar contrast range and tonality, but I haven't yet found one that fits.

Can you recommend me something that has all the great properties (especially tonality/contrast range) of Neopan 400 in Rodinal, but with slightly less grain? Very difficult question, hard to answer objectively, I know. I am just looking for some new input, some new starting points. Maybe you have some ideas?

In any case, I love your blog. Keep it going.

Best regards, Sander.

ps. I know that I could try medium format. In fact I already have. But I much prefer my 35mm Contax for its fantastic (!) quality and for its portability (hiking, biking).

Photo–Smith said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments, I can see we have similar views on film characteristics.
I like Neopan 400 quite a lot, and wish there were a slower version, Acros is a T grain film with a different character alas.
I have been told that Neopan SS is a conventional cubic emulsion but is only available in Japan though Megapearls.
I have been using T max in Rodinal and quite like the smoothness of grain but not the tones as much as Neopan.
I have a friend who feels XP2 gives him the correct balance of speed/grain/tone and that may be worth looking into if you have a good lab.

Finally I know your camera quite well and it is a corker, I love my M4-P but it can't compete with my Fuji 6x7 RF or my Rollei.
I know you aren't keen but quality is best attained by stepping up a format.
The problem is keeping the camera size down, have you considered a Fuji 645 RF? they are small and good quality, Neopan in MF is even better. here is a link:
Certainly worth a thought.
Thanks again for your comments.

Sander said...

Hi Mark,

Thanks so much for your advice Mark. Before trying Acros I had quite high hopes for it being the same thing as Neopan but more finely grained. Alas indeed. Acros and the other t-grain films are good in their own right, just not what I am looking for in a film.

XP2 seems like a very nice film, but then I love to develop myself, and I don't do C41 at home. I have used XP2 years ago (or maybe the Kodak thing, I don't exactly remember) and indeed it is nice film, its tonality is very much alright.

You say the G1 is a "corker". I had to look that one up. It is indeed a corker ("1. One that corks bottles, for example. 2. Slang A remarkable or astounding person or thing."). I love the Zeiss lenses so much. They are the nicest optics I have ever used. I have (had) some Canon L glass; the Zeisses are just in a different league. I think it is the incredible shadow detail that I love most of all.
Last summer I've been hiking in the Swedish mountains with the G1 and three lenses (28/45/90). I have four beautiful 30x40cm enlargements on my wall now (more to come). Neopan 400 in Rodinal holds together very well at least up to 30x40 and the tonality is just great.

About MF, I am slightly ashamed to admit that I have a great MF camera, the Mamiya 7 with 80mm lens. I say ashamed, because I don't love it as much as I do the G1, while I feel I should (for the 800 euros it cost me). The lens is very sharp alright, but the contrast of the 80mm is so different from the Zeiss glass. The 80mm has very high contrast somehow, deep blacks and strong whites, with quite a steep gradation in between. It lacks the transparent, vibrant (I am lost for words) shadows of the Zeisses. The Mamiya does not have bad glass, not at all. It's just that I, personally, don't seem to like it very much. I haven't had the Mamiya for a long time yet, and I am stil trying to come to love it for its own greatness, but I am having a hard time. I think Zeiss has spoiled me.

I also have a (very ugly) Rolleiflex 3.5F. Suprisingly so perhaps, I seem to prefer this camera over the Mamiya. The Planar lens is not as well coated as modern glass, but it is very sharp and I have come to consider the 'dusty' contrast (this is all relative of course) as a beauty of its own.

I have also owned a Fuji GS645w and a Fuji GSW690III. Both have sharp lenses, but just like with the Mamiya, I feel that they are too contrasty (especially the GS645w), not nice on the shadows and highlights. I could also not get along with the default vertical orientation of the GS645w nor with the weight of the GSW690III (and lack of meter). Both are great cameras, I just couldn't love them. (I sold both.)

You know what I think? I think I should stop looking around for something better, nicer, more expensive etc. I have found myself a combo (G1/Neopan 400/Rodinal) that I am 95% happy with. Why always want more? Curiosity, of course. It's just fun to try new stuff and hope that something great will come out.

Well, I will look into the Fuji Neopan SS (who came up with that name?). Maybe I can find it somewhere and try it once or twice with different developers/dilutions. Also, I will shoot some more Neopan 400 with the Mamiya 7. I could pull the film a bit more and try to get the contrast under control. The lens is very sharp, reason enough to keep on trying.

I would love to own a Leica one day. I am very curious how the glass relates to Zeiss's. In fact I already own a Leica, the Minilux. Maybe not a 'real' Leica (not made in Germany and all), but the character of the images I get out of it seems to match well some of the true Leica pics I see on the internet. The Minilux is terrible in certain ways, and I would love to have a real Leica (the M4-2 that you have or something similar affordable), just for the feel of it (greed!). The one thing I don't like about the Contax G1 is the electronic rangefinder/focusing. If Leicas are G1's with manual focusing then I definitely want one, one day. Maybe prices wil come down the next couple of years.

Thanks so much for your help and suggestions Mark. I love your blog and I will come back to visit it often. I like your approach to photography a lot.

All best, Sander.

Photo–Smith said...

Thanks for your kind words about my blog, I would like to publish more articles if I get the time I have 5 or 6 almost ready to go, shooting the images is the tough part as I leave for work in the dark and come home in darkness...
If you love your camera then yes just be happy, shoot loads of images don't worry about perfection.
I know what you mean about the Zeiss lenses I have had them on my 'blads, Rollei TLR and Rollei 35.
I know it sounds slightly snobbish but I do think German lenses are better, I know what you mean about your Mamiya as I have owned C330 and 645 1000S the lenses are sharp but contrasty possibly thats part of the reason I always loved my Rollei over the C330 the images look sweeter.
The Leica lenses are lovely too, even the older ones like the Elmars which I use a fair bit. I don't know why but it feels 'right' - this spring I'm going to shoot some Kodachrome through it.
have fun....

Anonymous said...

I also appreciate this film, for the same reasons you have stated here.

I sometimes use other films, but always seen to gravitate back to Neopan 400. When not available, I sometimes push Acros 100 a couple of stops, with very good results. Nothing, however, is the equal of Neopan 400, in my opinion.

Ole-Henrik Helin said...

Someone said: "With Neopan 400 when focusing on the enlarger I noticed a rather strange pattern, bigger than the grain, that sort of resembled cracked glaze".

This is called reticulation, this happens if you have a fairly large variation in temperature from the developer to stop, to fix to wash.

The film will then expand and contract and "crackle".

The process is explained in more depth here:

Neopan 400 seems to be a bit more sensitive to this effect than other brands, so one should be careful and keep the temperatures of all liquids within +-0.5 degrees Celsius.

Photo–Smith said...

I've seen reticulation quite a few times it's easier to get on very old technology films like EFKE 25 which have softer emulsions.
Neopan has never given me any problems even with ~ ± 5°C so I think half a degree will make little or no difference and certainly not give reticulation.
In fact when I try to get reticulation I often have to have a temp exceeding 50°C wash that's a 20 degree 'shock'

Just be careful with the wash and you'll never see any issues, 99% of problems are caused with fluctuation in temps sometimes wash water can start at 30 and end up at less than 10°C which with soft emulsions will give some issues.

Ole-Henrik Helin said...

Indeed, my text was maybe a little imprecise, what I meant to say, was; I try to keep all temperatures within 0.5 degrees (digital thermometer). That way, I am sure to not cause things like reticulation, since this most likely (as you point out), probably needs a much bigger difference in temperature variations.
- A good tip would be to keep all the water you are going to use in a big jug, everything will then have the same temperature during the whole process.
-I use a water-filtering jug which can hold 2 liters, I then usually re-fill it with water that I've checked with the thermometer for washing. (I use the Ilford washing method, so I never rinse the film directly from tap water). :)

Photo–Smith said...

The Ilford wash method is good, saves water and makes it less likely for temperature changes to occur.

Temp control of 0.5°C between solutions is probably excessive :-) but certainly won't hurt. I've never managed to reticulate a film by accident, and I've processed many hundreds of thousands!

That said most of those were colour films which apart from the old C-22 process have very high mechanical stress resistance and hard emulsions.

Have fun!